Thursday, February 09, 2012

Contemplative Nuns to Meet in Rome

Or....As If the Esopus Redemptoristines
Didn't Already Have
Enough on Their Plate!

The process of arranging for our move to a new location late in May goes on and on. Can't wait until we can unveil the whole plan. But now the lawyers are writing the purchase agreement, the finances are being contemplated and contractors are readying their bids. Each day more loose ends appear which we try to tie up as soon as possible. Stay tuned for further installments of the saga. And keep on praying.

For over a year, as all of this 'shock and awe' was transpiring locally, we have also been participating in preparations for a General Assembly of our international community, the Order of the Most Holy Redeemer. Since we are a contemplative order we do not have a general government riding herd over all the monasteries of the Order. Each contemplative monastery is autonomous as is the case with Carmelites, Poor Clares, etc. Autonomous monasteries may organize themselves into federations but these federation do not have real legal (juridical authority). 

It is a fortunate conincidence that earlier this week Sr. Julie Viera at the interactive blog "A Nun's Life" (highly recommended) described the recent General Chapter of her congregation, Sister Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHMs of Monroe, MI). One of the IHM founders was a Redemptorist so we have some roots in common. Note the difference of meeting title. The IHMs had a General Chapter and the Redemptoristines are going to have a General Assembly. There is a big difference between them. Here are Sr. Julie's words about their Chapter:

Although Chapter is part and parcel of our life as Catholic sisters and nuns today, it might seem like a secret event veiled in mystery for those outside of religious life! So, here’s a bit more about what Chapter is. I am drawing here from my brother Redemptorists who provide a great intro on General Chapter.

"The General Chapter is a visible expression of a fundamental sense of democracy that lies at the heart of religious life. This democracy is based on the radical equality of all the members by virtue of their baptism and their religious consecration, hence their common vocation to be prophets or spokespersons for God. In this sense, a General Chapter resembles more the gathering of Mary and the apostles at Pentecost than a modern parliament or congress. The participants in the General Chapter gather in the name of Jesus Christ, confident that his Spirit will help us to accomplish our work.

What are those tasks? The General Chapter must first take an honest look at the state of the Congregation… This examination should then lead the Chapter members to face honestly certain discomforting questions: are we faithful to our mission or have we slid into mediocrity? What is the Lord asking of us today? How are we being asked to change? The General Chapter will offer specific directives for the whole Congregation as it proposes a path to help [religious] live more authentically their … vocation. Finally, the delegates will elect the leadership of the Congregation for the next six years … "(Source -
For our IHM General Chapter, we had a gathering of over 150 IHM Sisters and were joined for some parts of Chapter by our IHM Associates and others who could be of great help in our discernment and decision-making. One of the best parts was that we come together from across the globe, across ministries, across generations, across cultures and gather under one roof. It was a visible expression of the community we experience with one another every day of our religious life no matter where we are.

The Redemptoristine General Assembly will have exactly the same goals and function as the IHM General Chapter and the Redemptorist General Chapter as described here. However, a General Assembly does not have the same level of authority according to Canon Law. In a congregation such as the IHMs a Chapter is composed of all the professed sisters in its various houses and ministries. In a contemplative order a Chapter is composed of all the solemnly professed nuns in that particular monastery. When we have a community meeting atteneded by only the nuns in solemn vows we are having a Chapter meeting. Chapters elect leadership, approve or reject requests for vows and provide consultation for the superior.  A General Assembly does not elect leadership because, unlike a congregation, an order does not have a general government. Our Prioress, the elected superior has the same level of authority within our monastery as a major superior (mother general or father general).  This makes the fairness of monastery elections absolutely vital so by Canon Law those elections must be supervised by the local ordinary or his representative and the accuracy of the vote count attested to by 'scrutineers'. 

Nonetheless, our General Assembly will be an opportunity for Redemptoristines to "come together from across the globe, across ministries, across generations, across cultures and gather under one roof." The Assembly, its deliberations and discussions, the personal interaction afforded by the gathering will contribute to unity and energy for the apostolic work of the Order. But monastic autonomy will continue to defend the right of each monastery to interpret the Assembly's directives as suggestions subject to their own house statutes. However, a General Assembly, can by agreement, approve and adopt a RULE, the Constitution and Statutes, that will be used a  rule of life throughout the Order.

So much for the arcane features of Church law. Bottom line is that each meeting, at whatever, level, with whatever degree of authority, is at the service of the charism of that particular religious family according to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and in the spirit of the Gospel  love of Jesus Christ.